Friday Offcuts – 18 June 2021

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This week Government together with the forestry, financial and investment communities from across New Zealand converged on Rotorua, New Zealand for the Carbon Forestry 2021 event run by the Forest Industry Engineering Association. Hot on the heels of the recently announced report by the Climate Change Commission on options for the country to meet its obligations on carbon reduction, legislation being developed and the many robust debates going on in community halls, in Council chambers and in the media up and down the country right now on “carbon farming”, the event, as evidenced by the record turnout was certainly timely.

In related carbon news this week, carbon prices in New Zealand this week reached an all-time high of over $40 with buyers snapping up NZUs. We’ve also included reference to a new study (the results of which were outlined by presenters this week in Rotorua) reporting that the cost of offsetting corporate carbon emissions is expected to surge tenfold over the next decade as businesses adopt net zero targets and the growing numbers of voluntary buyers increasingly look to lock in longer term quality units.

Also, from New Zealand this week, the world’s first Optimised Engineered Lumber plant has been officially opened. It’s a new wood product, one of only seven engineered lumber products ever commercialised. Aside from the products enviable technical and environmental credentials, it has been able to utilise lower grade logs and it’s just one of six production lines that have been planned for the Gisborne site. As reported previously, it’s also a new wood processing operation that's been designed a little differently than most mills using Industry 4.0 principles, with interconnected sensors, artificial intelligence and robotics being used throughout the operation to digitise wood manufacturing.

In forest technology this week, Finnish researchers have been collaborating in the IBC-Carbon project to develop remote sensing methods that can be used explore forest biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Hyperspectral and laser scanning measurements from an aircraft, as well as multi-spectral measurements by using drones have been used successfully to detect different tree species. And in remote sensing, data capture and forest inventory developments locally, the eagerly awaited programme for this year’s ForestTECH 2021 running later in November is also now close to completion. Details are expected to be posted onto the event website in the next few weeks. Three pre-conference workshops have already been set up, the details of which can now be seen here. Further details on this major forest technology event will follow.

And finally, another good news story to finish the week on. CFA Deputy Chief Officer Alen Slijepcevic, who’s worked alongside and with many of New Zealand and Australian readers, has been recognised for his expertise, experience and contribution to fire science and his leadership in emergency management with an Australian Fire Service Medal announced as part of the Queen’s Birthday 2021 Honours List. As well as being well-deserved, the story produced by the County Fire Authority on Alen and his work over the years in both countries is also well worth reading. That’s it for this week.

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World’s first Optimised Engineered Lumber plant opened

Stuart Nash, New Zealand’s Minister for Economic and Regional Development, and Minister of Forestry, on Thursday opened Wood Engineering Technology’s Optimised Engineered Lumber (OEL™) production line in Gisborne. The plant is the only one of its type in the world and Wood Engineering Technology’s breakthrough product, OEL™, is one of only seven engineered lumber products ever commercialised.

Speaking at the opening, Wood Engineering Technology Chair, Angus Fletcher said, “This is the biggest development in wood processing in over 30 years. But more importantly OEL™ is helping New Zealand address its biggest challenges - climate change, productivity, regional development, and the need for higher density housing.”

“For years New Zealand has been talking about moving up the value chain to improve our productivity in the primary industries. Our disruptive technology turns unprocessed logs, that would have otherwise been sent overseas, into an innovative high value product. And it does it in a fully automated, artificially intelligent, robotic factory in less than 12 hours while creating skilled, higher paid jobs in our regions. New Zealand innovation at its best.”

In Gisborne, Mr Nash also initiated the construction of Wood Engineering Technology’s second OEL™ production line. When complete the Gisborne location will have six production lines, producing up to 140,000 cubic meters of OEL™, and employing over 130 people.

Angus Fletcher said, “OEL™ is 40% stronger than structural lumber. This, and its guaranteed consistency, creates opportunities for wood-only, higher density, multi-storey residential buildings. OEL™ is an affordable zero carbon substitute for concrete and steel in building and construction. We are getting a lot of interest from those involved in providing social housing.

“The environmental credentials also stand out. Our research shows that one cubic metre of OEL™ has absorbed over 900kg of CO2 from the atmosphere, while the same volume of concrete releases over 400kg of CO2 into the atmosphere. OEL™ is produced in a Net Zero Energy plant and can play a leading role in helping to decarbonise our built environment.

“It also addresses the New Zealand productivity issue. OEL™ adds 300% to the value of an unprocessed log and has a productivity of greater than $500 per worked hour. The New Zealand average is only $68 per hour worked. Our little plant in Gisborne is certainly punching above its weight. “After 16 years in development, we would not be here today without the support of our partners and funders. Specifically, I must thank the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, Technology NZ, Callaghan Innovation, Scion and Trust Tairawhiti.”

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App development for bushfire prediction

USC researchers will develop a citizen science app for people living in fire-prone areas to help predict the likelihood of bushfires in Australia and minimise their devastating effects. The University has been awarded an Australian Government Citizen Science Grant of almost AU$500,000 to design and implement the app, called NOBURN (National Bush Fire Resilience Network).

Citizen scientists from around the country, including people who hike, work and camp in forest areas, will be encouraged to use the app to collect vital data in the form of photos and forest fuel samples. The Citizen Science Grants are awarded for scientific research projects with a national impact that engage the public as citizen scientists and is part of Inspiring Australia – Science Engagement Program.

The project will be led by Deputy Director of USC’s Forest Research Institute Professor Mark Brown and Director of USC’s Centre for Human Factors and Sociotechnical Systems Professor Paul Salmon. They will be supported by USC Research Fellow Dr Sam Van Holsbeeck and will work in cooperation with artificial intelligence (AI) experts at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Brown said the data gathered would be matched with satellite imagery and then used to train AI systems to predict the probability, severity and burn area of potential bushfires. “While naturally occurring bushfires cannot be avoided, there is an opportunity with this project to predict their likelihood and implement strategies to minimise their impact on the environment, property and life,” he said.

“Over 10 million hectares were burnt and over 2,000 homes were destroyed in the 2019-20 fire season, and the impact on agriculture, forestry and tourism industries was devastating. A range of factors determine the intensity and speed of fires, including fuel load, moisture, ignition source and wind. However, the methods currently available to predict fire events and risk are complex and not easily accessible for residents in bushfire-prone areas.”

Professor Salmon said the NOBURN project would result in new knowledge which would be shared with key stakeholders including fire authorities, forest professionals, landowners, key government representatives, and most importantly residents living in fire-prone areas.

“Before a fire, the outputs can indicate high-risk bushfire areas and support community preparation for disaster resilience,” he said. Once there is an ignition, the AI model can quickly and more accurately predict the direction, extent, severity and boundary of the fire, allowing targeted and strategic interventions”.

“This vital information can be used to inform forest management crews ahead of possible fires about the potential fire damage, severity, and affected areas.” Professor Salmon said the NOBURN app project would be a highly innovative, first-of-its-kind collaboration between experts in human factors, forestry and intelligence and machine learning.

Source: University of the Sunshine Coast

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Recognition for bushfire safety contributions

It was an interest in trees, not fires that set CFA Deputy Chief Officer Alen Slijepcevic on a path that led him around the world where he is today found leading the bushfire management portfolio of one of the world’s largest volunteer fire services.

Along the way, his work has had an enormous impact on the way bushfire risk and incidents are managed in Victoria – one of the most bushfire prone regions in the world – and improved the safety and resilience of communities and the environment.

Today, those achievements are rewarded with an Australian Fire Service Medal, announced as part of the Queen’s Birthday 2021 Honours List.

“I feel very honoured for being nominated and receiving this award. I would like to thank my colleagues and friends from the global fire community that have shared their knowledge and experience with me so I could continuously learn and improve my knowledge and skills. And none of that could have happened if I didn’t have a supportive family that allow me to do what I love and who has made a lot of sacrifices along the way,” DCO Slijepcevic said.

The journey started when he enrolled for a Master of Science – Forestry at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. “I wanted to spend my working life being outdoors and forestry was giving me that option,” DCO Slijepcevic says.

While his best friend abandoned the course after the first year and become a professional musician, DCO Slijepcevic had found his passion. However, when the former Republic of Yugoslavia was plunged into war in the early 1990s, he and his wife decided to migrate to seek a better future for their then three-year-old son.

“We applied and received a permanent residency in New Zealand and made a move. My first job was a Fire Management Officer with Forestry Corporation.” While in New Zealand, Alen was also working with NZ Forest Research Institute, where he met and worked with Liam Fogarty, who is now Deputy Chief Officer with Forest Fire Management Victoria.

Fogarty saw something special in the young Croat with the strong accent. “He had a forestry science degree but didn’t have the experience of fire behaviour, especially from an Australian and New Zealand perspective, but he did an advanced fire behaviour course and came out top of the class,” he says.

“Seeing someone who was so incredibly interested in taking on new challenges and who was inquisitive and intelligent – that impressed me no end.”

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Source: Country Fire Authority

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US lumber prices plunge 40% from May’s record high

Lumber prices in the US have fallen below $1,000 per thousand board feet for the first time since March. Prices have now dropped 40 percent since May's record high. Prices peaked on 10 May at a little over $1,700 per thousand board feet. Prices are still way up historically - around 175 percent over the past year. They are expected to remain elevated, at least for the near future.

The ramping up of U.S. lumber production is one reason for the drop, according to Domain Timber Advisors LLC, a subsidiary of Domain Capital Group. U.S. producers expanded production by 5 percent over the past year, with another 5 percent boost still coming. It's no secret that the skyrocketing cost of lumber has caused a crisis. The National Association of Home Builders says lumber price increases have added $36,000 to the average price of a new home since April 2020. They've also added $119 more a month to rent a new apartment.

47 percent of builders have opted to add price escalation clauses in sales and construction contracts. Homebuilder confidence remains low. The NAHB had been lobbying the White House for intervention - specifically to temporarily remove the tariffs placed on Canadian softwood lumber. Instead, the White House moved to double tariffs.

Skyrocketing demand for lumber thanks to a pandemic-induced home renovation boom, combined with supply constraints caused by pandemic production delays and a pine beetle infestation in some Canadian forests, all helped contribute to an eye-watering surge in prices.

But now the market appears to be returning to normal: Lumber futures for delivery in July were trading at $967 on Tuesday, compared to a peak of $1,670.50 in May 2021 and $422.80 in February 2020.

Source: The Woodworking Network, Forbes

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2021 National University Wood Challenge launched

The Australian Government, through the National Forest Industries Plan, Growing a Better Australia – A Billion tress for Jobs and Growth and in conjunction with Forest & Wood Products Australia, has launched the 2021 National University Wood Challenge. The challenge will award grants of up to $20,000 to each finalist team. The prize money will be used to fund the building, testing and prototyping of valuable and innovative products created from wood and wood fibre.

The challenge is aimed to promote using our forest resources smarter and to enhance community understanding of forestry. Within the Australian forest industry, there is a high volume of ‘lower value’ fibre that has great potential to be converted into high value products.

The challenge hopes to attract teams of university students and academics from a variety of disciplines, in order to increase the diversity of ideas and products proposed. Each team must have at least one member of the university’s academic staff and at least one student with a maximum of five team members, from the same university.

The grant funding will support the finalist team’s initiative to create a novel and innovative product that will provide value, in the global setting. The entries will be judged by a panel of highly skilled forestry and business executives. The winning team will be announced in November with an additional AU$10,000 in prize money to further develop their proposed prototype or project.

Key challenge dates: Entries Open:14/06/2021, Entries Close: 25/07/2021, Finalists announced: 10/08/2021, Prototypes to be submitted: 31/10/2021.

You can find out more and apply at:

Source: FWPA

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Carbon offset prices set to increase tenfold by 2030

The cost of offsetting corporate carbon emissions is expected to surge tenfold over the next decade as growing numbers of businesses adopt net zero targets, with carbon credit prices tipped to reach between $20 and $50 a metric ton of CO2 by 2030, according to new research.

At present, the price of carbon offsets — where organizations compensate for their own emissions by purchasing credits issued by emission reduction projects — remains "unsustainably low" thanks to a surplus of credits on the voluntary offset market built up over many years, according to the study.

Carbon offset prices on average stand at just $3-5 per metric ton of CO2 at present, with experts fearing that prices are far below the level required to both unlock significant investment in emissions-mitigation measures, such as carbon removal technologies or large-scale nature-based solution projects, and provide companies with an additional financial incentive to reduce their own emissions and avoid the need to purchase offset credits.

But according to the study published by Trove Research and University College London (UCL) late last week, the current surplus of carbon offset credits could be quickly eroded, with demand expected to increase fivefold or even tenfold over the next decade as companies seek to deliver on their net zero emissions pledges.

As such, prices could rise to $50 per metric ton by 2030, which researchers said would help to incentivize investment in climate action by encouraging land owners to shift some of their income away from agriculture and towards preserving forests and planting trees.

Moreover, with demand for carbon credits expected to continue rising beyond 2030, offset prices are likely to grow further by mid-century. The report argues that if governments successfully reduce emissions through domestic policies, then it would leave fewer carbon credits available for businesses through the voluntary market, which potentially could drive prices up towards $100 per metric ton.

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Source: BusinessGreen
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Local sawmilling event rescheduled for 2022

Reluctantly, following numerous discussions and calls with sawmilling companies throughout New Zealand and Australia, the decision has been made by FIEA to postpone the two-yearly sawmilling event, WoodTECH 2021 that was due to run in Rotorua, New Zealand on 3-4 August. It’ll be the first time in 20 plus years.

As of mid-June, international borders remain closed which has precluded many presenters, exhibitors and delegates from outside New Zealand unable to attend this year. Melbourne, Australia is still in and out of lockdown and there is a still a reluctance in Australia to travel inter-state. This has meant Australian mills are unable to meet together, as they usually do, at this two-yearly event.

Mills spoken to have been disappointed and again, the virtual experience or running webinars isn’t quite the same. One of the major benefits to operational staff is that they come through to a central location within each country, to get away from the production environment for a few days and to network with their counterparts from mills across the country. The networking between saw-doctors and production staff has always proved to be invaluable.

And finally, as we all know, post COVID-19 has resulted in an unprecedented level of building activity across Australasia. As a consequence, mills are working extra shifts and extra hours to meet this demand. This means that many of the mills we’ve been speaking to over the last month or so are concerned that they’ll be unable to get into Rotorua to attend the event or even participate remotely – as right now – they’re all just too busy.

So, whilst being unsettling for presenters and exhibitors that were involved, all have agreed, that it does make sense under the current environment. The plan instead is to run a very similar programme – much the same content and speakers as set up for WoodTECH 2021. It will instead, run in both Rotorua, New Zealand on 18-19 May and then again in Melbourne, Australia on 24-25 May 2022.

We’re hopeful that most international borders will be open to travel and many of our international presenters – and exhibitors – who haven’t been out to Australasia for at least a couple of years, will instead be able to participate in person to present and exhibit at the 2022 series - and to meet up with their customers. So, mark the new dates into your diary.

Updates will be supplied with a new programme being set up by FIEA, sawmill tech and equipment suppliers and local mills, later in the year.

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Remote sensing well-suited for tree species detection

Researchers from the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies at the University of Eastern Finland, and from the Finnish Environment Institute, are collaborating in the IBC-Carbon project to develop novel remote sensing methods that can be used explore forest biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Led by Professor of Environmental Geoinformatics Timo Kumpula and Leading Scientist Petteri Vihervaara (Finnish Environment Institute), the group has tested various remote sensing methods to detect different tree species in the Evo research area, among other places. In Evo, very high-resolution remote sensing data have been collected from an area of 83 square kilometres, which constitutes a diverse research environment that comprises conserved old forests, commercial forests and a popular camping area.

The researchers have been particularly interested in detecting the European aspen from among other tree species. The European aspen is an ecologically valuable tree species because it is associated with a rich and versatile selection of flora and fauna that maintain forest biodiversity.

Different remote sensing methods yield versatile data

To detect different tree species, the IBC-Carbon research group has conducted hyperspectral and laser scanning measurements from an aircraft, as well as multi-spectral measurements by using drones.

Unlike conventional aerial images, hyperspectral measurement yields data from hundreds of different wavelength ranges, which makes it possible to observe reflection differences between different tree species in the terrain. Laser scanning, on the other hand, enables three-dimensional measurement of objects, providing information on, for example, tree height and crown structure.

The accuracy achieved by the research group in the detection of the European aspen varied between 84% and 92% in the hyperspectral and laser scanning data; in the data collected by drones, the accuracy was 86%.

"This means that the methods used in the study are well-suited for the detection of different tree species. By combining reflection data from different wavelength ranges and laser scanning data on tree height and crown structure, we are able to perform more detailed mapping of trees," Researcher Arto Viinikka says.

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Robotised technology to help protect against forest fires

Each year, many forested areas in Canada are being severely impacted or threatened by forest fires. Communities located near those areas must often be evacuated and suffer enormous material losses. One of the priorities of fire agencies is to protect those communities located in forest areas. This includes proactively reducing the risk of wildfire entering communities through the treatment of the forest fuels.

As part of its Forestry 4.0 program, a group of experts from FPInnovations’ Wildfire group has collaborated with New Zealand companies Scion and InFact over the past years to the development of a new robotic tool that could serve this purpose.

The Tree-to-Treeharvesting robot

The collaborative work led to the development of the Tree-to-Tree, a remote-controlled harvesting robot designed to move from one tree to the other and to carry out thinning operations on unwanted trees. The device is comprised of a two-armed robot equipped with a mechanical jaw at each end. Its design allows the robot to move easily, grabbing trees along the way. A saw blade positioned at the base of the jaw system allows to cut trees near ground level.

During the cut, force will be applied to push the tree in the intended direction of fall, therefore reducing pinching of saw blade. The jaws can grip trees with a diameter of 80-160 mm; with a range of 1 to 2 meters and a tilt of 10 degrees, the robot can theoretically operate above uneven ground, even in difficult to access areas. Possible uses include thinning of black spruce or pine stands around communities, and dangerous tree removal on wildfires and pre-commercial thinning/pruning of forest stands by industry.

Helping Canadian communities

Additional trials are still required to evaluate how the robot can be used in the Canadian environment. As many communities across the boreal forest require protective actions be taken against the possibility of wildfires moving into their boundaries, it is anticipated that this robot could be a possible economic and safe solution.

FPInnovations pursues its work as the only wildfire operations research program in Canada with direct links to forest fire agencies and fireline operations. In that respect, the Tree-to-Tree robot could potentially be used for FireSmart fire fuel reduction activities around communities as well as pre-commercial thinning in forest operations.

Source: FPInnovations

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WPMA Chief Executive steps down

Jon Tanner is stepping down as the Wood Processors & Manufacturers Association of NZ’s (WPMA) Chief Executive on 23 July after ten years in the role. Jon, who informed the WPMA Board of his intention to step down from the role, said he is very pleased with what WPMA has achieved during his time as CEO.

He said he is particularly proud of the fact that WPMA not only put the wood processing and manufacturing sector on to NZ’s radar screen but then drove it right to the top of the political agenda.

WPMA has confirmed the economic, social and environmental gains for NZ from a thriving wood processing sector. WPMA has also revealed the risks if NZ allows competitor countries to disregard global trade rules, undermine our markets and stunt growth in a NZ-based wood processing industry – an industry that is absolutely integral to the future zero-carbon economy.

Cross-sector collaboration and leadership have been the hallmark of WPMA work – it has made WPMA strong. Jon says, “I am pleased to be leaving WPMA in good heart for the future, which is critical given its role as the leading wood industry body in NZ. The organisation has a loyal and active membership base and a Board that is confident to challenge the “established viewpoint”.

WPMA Chair Brian Stanley said, “he was very sorry to see Jon departing the WPMA but understands that CEO’s do need to seek other opportunities from time to time”. “He said Jon has been a valuable member of the WPMA management team over a period of ten years as CEO and his contribution has been invaluable, not only for the wood processing sector, but also for the manufacturing sector in general through his persistence with the work stream of holding government to account in matters of international trade and trade law”.

“Brian said Jon, along with his industry knowledge, will be a significant loss to the WPMA and wishes him well in his new venture.” Mr Stanley says the Board has commenced a search for a replacement immediately and expects a good talent pool of candidates.

Source: WPMA

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NZ Carbon price just keeps on climbing

NZUs fixed at $40.50 on both CommTrade and Carbon Match earlier in the week, an all-time high but still only about half of what's being paid for carbon credits Europe and the UK. European carbon prices are still close to $90 NZD equivalent.

Jarden head of institutional commodities, Nigel Brunel, says he expects the price to hold or even push higher in the leadup to next Wednesday’s NZU auction. “There’s not a lot of supply and quite a bit of demand,” Brunel said. He said he thought it was unlikely the auction would breach the $50 price containment trigger price that would see up to an extra 7 million units released.

But Brunel said he would be surprised to see the trigger price reached at auctions later in the year. “The Climate Change Commission’s final report was pretty bullish.” Since the release of the report, prices have pushed up from $39.00 to $40.75.

Source: Carbon Match, Carbon News

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Wood industry fears for its survival

Thirty years ago, the NZ Government sold off much of its Crown forestry estate. Today it's looking to forestry, now largely in private hands, to achieve many aims. Help offset carbon, provide enough timber for our housing industry, earn export income, and supply biofuels and bio-coal to fill our vehicles and boilers.

But some in the industry believe those aims are in jeopardy because of the sheer amount exported overseas, in raw form to one market. Last year 80 per cent of our US$2 billion (NZ$2.8b) log trade was earned in China.

Under geo-political pressure, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta recently urged exporters diversify their markets more widely. But her warning falls as international log prices have reached historic levels. Good news for exporters but bad news for domestic mills which have to pay the international price for local logs.

The Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association claims New Zealand’s wood industry is not only too reliant on exporting but ignoring protectionism by our trading partners.

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Source: Stuff

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    ... and one to end the week on ... the man's a genius!

    And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

    Brent Apthorp
    Editor, Friday Offcuts
    Distinction Dunedin Hotel
    6 Liverpool Street, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand
    PO Box 904, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
    Tel: +64 (03) 470 1902, Mob: +64 21 227 5177, Fax: +64 (03) 470 1906
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